Everyone’s talking about the gut microbiome and how important it is to have diversity of good bacteria in our gut to help not only our gut function, but also to help with our immune function and emotional state in terms of reducing anxiety and improving mood.

I heard one of the best lectures ever explaining the basics of the gut microbiome, prebiotics and probiotics. It was presented by Professor Kevin Whelan, Professor of Dietetics and Head of Department of Nutritional Sciences, Kings College, London.

He explained that while we are making great advances into understanding how important the gut microbiome is, there is still so much more to learn and research. However, the key issue is our diet and how we can influence our gut microbiome by what we eat.

The take-home message is simple:

  • Eat a diverse range of whole foods, with the emphasis on plant foods.
  • Eat foods that are minimally processed and don’t contain any unnecessary additives like emulsifiers which we think can cause inflammation in the gut lining.
  • Ensure that we include some high-fibre foods, rich in resistant starch, that will act as prebiotics (food) for the probiotic (healthy bacteria) in our gut.
  • Include some probiotic foods like yoghurt with probiotics, and other fermented foods like Kefir and sauerkraut, sourdough breads, kimchi and kombucha, knowing that not all the probiotics will survive digestion, but even so one or two percent of one billion is still significant in terms of improving your gut microbiome.

Fortunately I was able to interview Professor Kevin Whelan on my radio segment with Denis Walter on 3AW. Then I read with great interest a cover story in The Age Good Food section.

Paula Goodyer’s excellent article challenged us to consider whether it’s a coincidence that as the number of overprocessed foods in our supermarkets has grown, the diversity of microbes living in our gut has shrunk.

She contends that our “microbiome, as it’s called, can have so much influence on other parts of our body that it’s becoming recognised as an organ in its own right – and changes to its complex ecosystem are linked to a mixed bag of problems including inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, autism, depression and anxiety.”

To understand the latest on diet and gut health, you can read her article here 

So, what’s the best dietary advice to improve your microbiome?

Eat the widest range of foods possible and try to cut out highly processed foods, particularly those high in fat and containing emulsifiers.

Do you eat enough food variety? Use this Food Variety Checklist, counting one for each food category listed you ate in a day, to score yourself. Score over 30 different foods for a gold star. Less than 10 a day is poor.

If you scored poorly, have a look at our list of how to increase the variety in your diet each day. Use this menu plan: Adding More Variety.